Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Results unpredictable even if Mr. Biden wins the election.


The upcoming U.S. Presidential election might turn out to be as complex and incomprehensible as the covid-19 pandemic.

To start, because of the asymmetry between both parties towards mail voting (Democrats more inclined to vote by mail), there might be an initial red mirage, with Mr. Trump appearing to win before the counting of the mail votes starts. Mr. Trump might declare victory prematurely. 

Even if Mr. Trump loses the popular vote (and electoral college vote), he might not concede defeat and bow out graciously.

He might refuse to leave the White House, in which case, I read on the web, the secret service might have to physically escort him out as a civilian, an operation the venerable organization is reportedly simulating and rehearsing already.

In addition to that, there might be some resistance from Trump supporters, the nature of which is anyone's guess at the moment.

Taken together, the outcome of the election might be very unpredictable, even if Mr. Biden wins the election. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Mr. Trump's performance in CBS's 60 Minutes


I watched Mr. Trump's performance in CBS's 60 Minutes on its website.

I did not think that questions from the host Lesley Stahl were particularly biased or hard.

It seemed rather that Mr. Trump was set on denying the whole direction of the show from the beginning.

When a person does not have the capacity to absorb information which might not necessarily agree with his or her views, people around would gradually hesitate from expressing these ideas.

Ms. Lesley Stahl did not shy away from making her case, but I wonder how many in the White House would have been bold enough to face Mr. Trump with adversary views.

For a robust policy making, it is necessary to assimilate multiple views. The attitude and tone of Mr. Trump in the 60 Minutes program cast some serious doubts about how his administration has been on the diversity of ideas.

Tuesday, October 06, 2020

Roger Penrose visits Cambridge

11-12 January 1997

(Note: This is an essay based on Roger Penrose's visit to Cambridge while I was doing postdoc in Horace Barlow Laboratory.)

11 January 1997

On the eve prior to the talk, I went to the station to pick up Roger Penrose with Adar Pelah and Roger Thomas. He came with two large bags. Apparently he just arrived from the States and has been staying at the Royal Society in London for a couple of days. He had this very fragile, elf-like atmosphere. The three of us introduced ourselves, and shook hands. 

It had snowed earlier that day, and the air was very cold. We got in the car. Penrose began to explain that he had a bad flu in the states, and one of his eardrums was damaged. So he had some difficulty in listening.

We arrived at the restaurant at 22 Chester Road. It was a nice cozy restaurant with a special private room upstairs. The other guests were already there in the room. John Mollon, who suggested this restaurant to Adar, said proudly that it was almost like dining in one's own house. Horace Barlow, his wife Miranda, and Graeme Mitchison stood up to welcome Penrose. It appeared that they knew each other well.

So the meals began to arrive, and I sat at the opposite side of the table with Adar, and listened to what these old men would discuss. They talked about Scuba diving in Australia, how to publish a successful book, etc. etc. Penrose explained to us about an episode when he appeared in the film "A Brief History of Time". The Hollywood guys came down to Penrose's room in Oxford and said they would make a mock-up of his office in the studio, and made notes, measurements, etc. When Penrose went down to the studio, he found this monster of an office. They had installed a huge leather chair, and one huge desk before it, clean, with no papers scattered over it. And they have stacked the bookshelves with antique books which had nothing to do with Penrose's work. When Penrose sat in the chair, he found that he could not reach the desk. So he tried to pull the chair closer, only to find that it was nailed to the floor! Penrose complained, and there came a bunch of guys who denailed, moved, and renailed the chair. The whole business was incredibly expensive and stupid.

Then they asked to Penrose "when does time flow backwards?", referring to Stephan Hawking's idea that when the universe begins to contract, the time would flow backwards. Penrose answered, "I think that time would not flow backwards under any circumstances". They said "cut!" "No, No, you cannot say that. Please imagine some situation where the time flows backwards." Then Penrose says, "I just cannot imagine any circumstances under which the time begins to flow backwards." "Cut!". "No, No, we cannot take this. PLEASE think of some extreme situation where the time would flow backwards". So finally, Penrose was forced to say something incredibly contrived, something he never intended to say. 

When Penrose began to talk, he looked much younger and vivace. 

Then Graeme Mitchison said to Penrose that maybe he should show the Greeks the Penrose tiling and went on to ask if he would be able to produce them. Penrose briefly said "Yes". 

I asked if he was writing a third book after Emperor's New Mind and Shadows of the Mind. He said yes. And then he said a book titled "The large and the small in the mind" is coming out in February. To be published from Vintage (Random House). Apparently it is a book about physics in which he pours out his opinions about other people's theories. So it should be VERY entertaining. Penrose said Stephen Hawking made some nasty remarks at the end of the book. I asked if he had written about superstrings. Penrose's eyes twinkled. "Yes, that is obviously something I should write, isn't it. But as far as I understand the superstring theory is gone and now they are talking about the m-theory. M supposedly stands for "mysterious", or "mother", or whatever. The great merit of the superstring theory they said was that the theory was unique. But now they have several different superstring theories, the uniqueness is gone. And they start talking about membranes. (Graeme;Does Ed Witten still say that superstrings is the theory of the 21st century?) Yes, I think it is still in the air. (Penrose looks at the watch). But the 21st century is just around the corner. I think they should hurry!"

Well, the dinner was over and the evening ended prematurely. 

I took Penrose to St. John's college in Adar's car. The drive was a few minutes. Penrose sits in the front seat, I in the back. I begin to pour out.

"I think you should be able to derive the whole quantum mechanics from your twistor formalism. Don't you agree?"

"Well, there are these long-term dreams that you cannot work out right away. I still think quantum mechanics is incomplete"

"I noticed that you draw all the illustrations in your book. In Shadows of the mind, there is one particularly elaborate drawing about the evolutional merit of consciousness. A man is drawing some geometrical figures on the ground, while a tiger is about to jump onto him"

"Yes. There is a joke in that drawing, which nobody has noticed. It is the theorem that the guy is trying to prove."

(By this time, we are in St. John's college, and we are walking toward Penrose's room)

"Have you come up with a three-dimensional version of your tiling?"

"Yes, not me, but somebody has thought of it."

"How many pieces do you need?"

"4. In fact, there is a non-periodic tiling with just one piece. But this is not very interesting. It just spirals out from a point."

"Oh, like the one you have in Emperor's New mind. But that is two dimensional, of course."

"It is not difficult to explain this to you, Suppose there is a .....(I cannot catch the word). Then you add a roof to it. ....The angle is a irrational number..... but this is cheating, really."

"There is no (quasi) translational invariance in that case." 


"You give this example of non-computational dynamical evolution which is defined using the halting of Turing machines. Suppose you have a particular series of evolution (in discrete time). Surely there is at least one algorithm that produces the same result?"

"Yes, you always have to think of a class of problems, you see. If you consider only one particular example, you can always do it computationally."

(I want to ask him if that class should have aleph 1, but we are approaching his room now.)

"That particular example of non-computational process is a non-implementable one, isn't it? Do you think you can ever come up with an implementable version of non-computational process?"

Penrose says something like "****" , but we are in front of his room.

So I and Adar say good night to Penrose. He looked very very tired by then. Maybe the trip to the States and the flu taxed him. So that was "day one" of my first encounter with Penrose. The clock was 11:30 p.m. On the way back to home Adar said he liked Penrose.


12 January 1997 


On Friday, I went to pick up Penrose in St. John's college. We went up the spiraling stairs of the tower, and knocked the door of the senior guest room 1. There was no answer, and Adar had to knock on the door again and again.

A few minutes later, we heard some noise. Penrose opened the door and we walked in. 

I saw several transparencies scattered over the table by the window. Some colour pens were laid down near the chair. Penrose began to pack his things, and told us about a time when he stayed in the same room. While he was working at the desk, he saw a helicopter land on the greens in front of the building. Several police cars rushed to the scene. It was Princess Anne visiting Trinity college. 

Penrose asked me if I have come across a hard copy of the Psyche-D paper. He said that David Chalmers was the guy who originally induced him to write for Psyche-D, on two conditions. Namely, that the number of commentators should be less than 10, and that a physical copy should be eventually produced. Penrose asked David Chalmers if the copy was available, and he said yes, but so far he has failed to send any! 

Penrose then said the last time he was there, a swarm of ladybirds invaded the room overnight. Adar said there was something about the colour of the ladybirds that makes you avoid harming it. I said that ladybirds are supposed to taste nasty any way, and added "not that I tried it". Penrose joked that he supposed that ladybirds were not considered as delicacies in Japan. I said no.

As we walked toward the bridge of sighs (St. Johns built the bridge imitating the famous one in Venice), I began the questions. 

"If you take any particular result of non-computational process, you can always simulate it by a computational process. You said yesterday that you have to consider a class of problems to make a distinction between computational and non-computational processes. Is it the case that the class must be aleph 1?"

"No, that is not necessary. You see, I understand the argument about computability is always within the bounds of countable infinity. When you consider only the countable infinity, within that there is a special class of recursive functions....that is computable..."

That was as far as we got when we came to the porter, and Penrose returned the key. We got on the car. 

Adar began to ask if he could use Penrose tiling for his home. 

We parked the car in front of the Kenneth Craik building, and we walked up to Horace Barlow laboratory. I asked Penrose if he knew Horace Barlow before last night, and he answered that he has actually known Horace for a long time. 

Adar took Penrose into his office, to settle the travel fare compensation, etc. Penrose asked for a copy of Shadows of the Mind, and began to prepare for the talk. I went to my mac and checked the mails. Some minutes later, I went up to him and gave him a non-periodic tiling handkerchief that I got when I was in Riken from the quasi-crystal laboratory. Penrose was delighted. The tiling had hexagonal symmetry, with two elementary pieces, it was not Penrose tiling, which has pentagonal symmetry. He said it was by a man named Amal?? and was fascinated by the handkerchief. He went on to say that some people confuse tiling by other people with Penrose tiling. In fact, "Penrose tiling" was sometimes used as a generic name for the whole class of non-periodic tiling. He asked me if I could really spare it, and he was genuinely glad to have the handkerchief. He said Amal? was an unlucky man, already deceased, who never had any real job. Then he bubbled on about non-periodic tiling with 12-fold symmetry, etc. It was a topic he loved.

Adar and Penrose went to the tea room. I joined them with my own coffee cup with the photos of Hara Setsuko on it. When I walked in, I found Graeme Mitchison already sitting in front of Penrose! Horace Barlow was there. A few minutes later, Andrew Huxley (who formulated the so-called Hodgkin-Huxley equation which describes the action potential in neurons and was awarded Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine) walked in, and Horace stood up and introduced Penrose to Huxley. Huxley is some 10 years senior to Penrose. Later, Adar told me that Huxley did not know Penrose, and said "you are the son of ??? Penrose, aren't you?" Huxley only recognized him as the son of his father. There was some humour in it, when you consider two men of age 66 and 76 talking to each other like that!

Graeme Mitchison was still talking about how to demonstrate your intellectual superiority when you travel back to ancient Greek! I talked with Horace about his forthcoming trip to Australia.

The lecture began at 1:00. Most of the stuff I knew very well from reading Emperor and Shadows twice each, so I just paid attention to Roger Penrose himself. He used two projectors. He began the lecture with the transparency of three spheres figure showing the relation between the physical, mental, and platonic worlds. I thought to myself maybe that was the figure which would represent 100 years from now the whole philosophy of Roger Penrose. Then he went on to argue about the non-computational nature of our intelligence. "Intelligence" needs "Understanding" needs "Awareness". All the transparencies were hand-written with colour pens. I found out that actually he was very fond of colors. Earlier, Penrose gave a direction to Adar Pelah in which color he should paint the three spheres representing the three worlds in the poster announcing his talk. For some unknown reason, Penrose thinks that the colours of the physical, mental, and platonic worlds are blue, red, yellow, respectively. I actually asked Penrose why he chose these particular colors as we walked up to the Barlow laboratory. He had no idea!

After the lecture, there were three mediocre questions. Adar had to cut it short, as Penrose had already talked for 70 minutes, whereas he was supposed to stop after one hour.

We went to the reception room. There I found Srimant and Adam. Adam is a earnest part II student who is doing some project with Srimant. Adam asked me what he should read to study computational neuroscience, and I suggested the book by Sejnowski. Penrose was surrounded by several eager youths. 

Horace told me that he liked the lecture, and said it is possible that Penrose was right. He said Penrose was an awfully clever and charming fellow. But, for himself, "he is happy to live with the conventional classical physics". 

Penrose wanted to catch the 3:00 p.m. bus to Oxford, so I and Adar whisked him out of the reception. As we went down the stairs, Graeme Mitchison catches Penrose. "Roger, you should come to my dinner party. I have these wonderful dinner parties". 

As we walked to the car, I asked Penrose the most important question.

"I think you would rather think that the quantum reduction process is deterministic."

"Yes, that is right. Although there is some complication about the influence of the environment, which makes the dynamics random." 

"If you have an isolated system, and the system reduces itself on its own, that reduction would be deterministic, wouldn't it?"

"Yes. I cannot say I am certain. But I would rather prefer it to be that way."

10 minutes later we saw Penrose off at the bus station. As we were standing in the queue, Penrose suddenly turned back to me and said if I had any question to ask him, I was welcome. I thanked him and just then the driver was ready to sell him a ticket. I noticed that the weather was getting mild.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Shift of mood in the saga of Japan's coping with the coronavirus.

With the outbreak of COVID-19, countries all over the globe have taken stringent measures. Japan has been one of the rare exceptions, where even a partial lockdown has not been taken.

Things have started to change a bit in the run-up to this weekend. On Friday, Ms. Yuriko Koike, the governor of Tokyo spoke at a press conference and suggested that people refrain from going out unless necessary. The wordings and the regulations behind were not so draconian as in other parts of the world, but the Japanese people took the message. In a characteristically obedient response, there were very few people in the central districts of Tokyo on Saturday, with many shops and restaurant closed or operating under reduced staff and opening hours. 

The reaction to the coronavirus outbreak has been varied across countries, and it is interesting to observe how the dramatic development is being played out here in Tokyo and elsewhere in Japan. I am of course very much concerned with health and safety. At the same time, I would be actively interested in how Japan copes with this difficulty in her own way, as somebody born and grown up in this country.

Related video:

Atmosphere in Tokyo under potentially imminent lockdown.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Semantics is a part of the mind-brain problem.

Although research on artificial natural language processing has made great progress, so far it is avoiding the most salient feature of language: Meaning of words. 

For sure, among some circles a call for taking the semantics seriously would stir (superficial) jeers. However, at the end of the day, the meaning of words is the most obvious thing to tackle if you want to take natural language seriously.

Phenomenologically speaking, meanings of words are instances of intentional qualia. As is true for qualia in general, statistical approach cannot uncover the fundamental aspects of the meaning of words.

Statistical learning has made great progress in recent years. Feats like GPT-2 are impressive. However, these statistical methods cannot tackle the semantic sides of language no matter how impressive their results might appear. 

Semantics is a part of the mind-brain problem. Technical separation of language processing from consciousness studies is good for a while, but it cannot be the ultimate route for understanding why and how we speak.

Related video:
Meaning of words and intentionality

Monday, March 23, 2020

The conundrum of the COVID-19 lottery.

One of the cognitive difficulties involved with COVID-19 is that the whole things is like a lottery.

You can take care and make necessary precautions, but it is always possible that you get the bug after all.

Once you are infected, you may be OK with only slight symptoms. On the other hand, you could proceed to severe symptoms, and even die.

Media reports suggest that the elderly and people with chronic medical conditions have the risk of developing severe symptoms. However, we also know that it can prove fatal for the young and healthy, too.

Governments all around the world are advising citizens to take extraordinary precautions, to the almost total halting of social and economic activities, with their own consequences. And yet, politicians including Boris Johnson repeatedly tell us that it is likely that a majority of the whole population would eventually affected.

It is the almost mystic cloud of uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 that is making an adjustment to the disease so difficult. We would like to live sensibly, but it is not at all clear what being sensible entails in this case. That's the conundrum of the COVID-19 lottery. 

Related video.

Coronavirus is like a lottery.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Why officials find it hard to postpone the Tokyo Olympics.

So the torch relay is soon to start in Japan in the run-up to the Tokyo Olympics. However, as everybody is keenly aware, the atmosphere surrounding this sports event is dire, to say the least.

There are several elements why the officials in the organizing committee of Tokyo Olympics (most of them senior men, although the Mayor of Tokyo is a woman) are reluctant to admit that a postponement is now necessary.

One, the Japanese love the Olympics, perhaps much more than the average citizens in other parts of the world. The last Tokyo Olympics in 1964 coincided with the happy memories of the rapidly growing Japan after the turmoils of the second world war. That established a favourable associative memory nationwide.

Second, for many people Tokyo Olympics 2020 was the symbol of hope for a way out of the stagnant economy in recent years, sometimes referred to as the "lost decade(s)" in Japanese history. It was hoped that the economic impact of the Olympics and the waves of tourists from all over the world would provide the much-needed stimulus package for the ailing economy.

Three, there is a tendency in the Japanese culture that once something is started, there is a great momentum to pursue it to the end. Although this mindset has its merits, it can also backfire. It is increasingly doubtful whether the obstinacy to carry on with the preparations for the Olympics would turn out to be sensible.

All these parameters provide a potentially toxic cocktail of denial, disbelief, and wishful thinking in those involved in the Tokyo Olympics, especially among the senior officials, who cling to the dwindling possibility of the games going ahead with the problems of COVID-19 somehow miraculously solved.

Related Video

Feelings in Japan about the postponement of Tokyo Olympics

Saturday, March 21, 2020

The enigma of the subdued coronavirus outbreak in Japan.

The coronavirus outbreak has entered Japan some time ago, but as of today, there is a strange and almost eerie atmosphere of calm in the nation. There are reports of new infections and casualties almost every day in the media, but the government's response has been mild and unfocused, a far cry from the stringent and even draconian measures taken by many countries. In and around Tokyo, the trains are running as usual, and bars and restaurants are open, although the number of customers have noticeably dwindled.

The enigma is that despite the lukewarm measures taken by the Japanese central and local governments, the coronavirus outbreak has been restrained so far in Japan. Some people argue that this is perhaps due to the lack of infection tests. Conspiracy theories abound, pointing out that the government is trying to keep the infection and death figures low in order to go ahead with the Tokyo Olympics. This is unlikely to be the case, as the number of severely ill or dead from the disease does seem to be low, figures hard to suppress given the openness of the medical sector in this country.

So why is the coronavirus outbreak subdued in Japan? Some point out that the Japanese are incredibly clean people, washing their hands before eating food well before this outbreak. Others say that the obsession to wear masks even when there are no symptoms helped. Yet others suggest that the Japanese shyness towards bodily contacts such as handshake, hugging, and kissing in social life is a factor in suppressing the coronavirus spread.

In any case, there is an atmosphere of unreality and incredulousness in Japan right now, as the news outlets report tragic and urgent situations in other parts of the world. Life in Tokyo is certainly not as usual, but not so different from the norm. There is a hidden undertone of suspension in the Japanese psyche now. Is the Japanese government doing enough? Can we really go through the crisis with THIS level of protective measures?  Nobody knows the answer.

Related video: Enigma of the apparent low infection rate of coronavirus in Japan

Sunday, February 09, 2020

Life hack of putting vegetables into cup noodles.

I love cup noodles, but the problem is, well, you know it, you cannot claim it to be super healthy to indulge in the joy of eating a bowlful.

So one of the tricks I use is to buy a cup noodle in a convenience store (which is ubiquitous all over Japan) together with salad. Then, I put the vegetables into the cup noodle, thus making a healthier (and actually tastier) serving of food for my soul to devour and enjoy.

To whomever who is fortunate enough to spend at least a few days in Japan, I heartily recommend this life hack of combining one of the most celebrated fast food in the world with a health-conscious addition of the greens.

(By the way, needless to say, I have been using the term "cup noodle" as a general term, not referring to a specific merchandise!)